Discrimination Laws Protect Unemployed NY Tenants and Those with COVID-19 

New York landlords cannot discriminate against or evict tenants because they, or someone who they reside with, have contracted COVID-19, once had COVID-19 or are merely suspected of having or once had COVID-19.  Similarly, landlords cannot treat tenants unfairly or differently because they are from, or appear to be from, a country with a serious COVID-19 outbreak. Landlords must also protect tenants who are being harassed by other tenants because they are from, or appear to be from, a country with a serious COVID-19 outbreak.

For their part, tenants should stay home and observe federal and state guidelines that have been put in place to stop the spread of the virus. Tenants are also advised to follow rules set by their landlords to prevent exposing other tenants, landlords, and landlords’ employees and contractors to COVID-19.

Landlords and tenants alike must be vigilant to take protective measures recommended by public health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19, knowing that many individuals with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and may have no awareness of their exposure to the virus.

There are also state, county and local laws in New York to prevent housing discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income. Therefore, unemployment insurance benefits must be treated the same as earned income for tenant’s qualification for affording apartments. Furthermore, there is currently a moratorium on evictions of tenants on federal assistance programs through  July 25, 2020 as imposed by the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

The elderly or those with physical, mental, or medical impairments (including COVID-19 related illnesses), are protected from housing discrimination under federal, county, state and city laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law. In addition, it is unlawful for landlords and their agents to discriminate against tenants for associating with individuals of a protected class. For example, landlords may not discriminate against tenants for associating with someone who is elderly or has a physical, mental or medical impairment.

Federal fair housing laws protect persons from discrimination in housing and related services on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. These laws also offer protection from discrimination taking the forms of harassment and intimidation. The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and other federal, state, and local laws collectively prohibit discrimination in nearly all housing transactions and residential settings, including rental housing, nursing homes, permanent shelters, and other places where people live and receive services.

HUD enforces federal fair housing laws to ensure that housing and services are discrimination free. The FHA and other federal laws prohibit the eviction, turning away or harassment of individuals profiled to be at risk of infection with COVID-19 on the basis of race, national origin or any other protected class.

The FHA also prohibits retaliation and intimidation against those who aid victims of discrimination or who report acts of discrimination to authorities such as HUD.

Persons with disabilities, including those who are elderly and have underlying medical conditions, are vulnerable and at high risk for a severe, life-threatening response to the virus. They may face unique civil rights issues with regards to for housing and related services. Housing providers are required to make reasonable accommodations that may be necessary to deliver housing and services to persons with disabilities affecting major life activities.

Tenants  whose  COVID-19 symptoms significantly impact  major life activities are protected by the discrimination laws. People  affected by COVID-19  fall into three categories: (1) Those currently diagnosed with  COVID-19 with a significant impact on major life activities; (2) Those who have recovered from COVID-19 and have had no recurring issues thereafter; and (3) Those who have had COVID-19 and suffer from some psychiatric or psychological trauma significantly impacting major life activities.

Tenants in the first and third categories would be deemed persons with a “disability” protected by the discrimination laws. If a landlord regards a tenant in the second category as a person with a “disability,” he or she may also be covered by the FHA.

Landlords, who are concerned that tenants having  COVID-19 may pose a threat to the health or safety of others, should set aside fear and speculation, and rely on objective medical information and advice from public health officials to determine the necessary steps to mitigate or prevent the risk of transmission. Rather than evicting out of fear, landlords should  honor and support their tenants who are medical professionals and caregivers selflessly working on  the dangerous  front lines to serve and heal.

For further information, watch Robert Friedman’s video seminars on landlord tenant law:

If you have any questions about the impact of COVID-19 on New York landlord tenant law, please contact our office today to arrange a legal consultation. We are here to help.

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